Biographer Eig has made numerous contacts with the filmmakers, and they began their first interview a week later, in 2016. Ali died. Dozens of writers, friends and boxing ambassadors attended: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Holmes, Jesse Jackson, novelist Walter Mosley, ESPN writer Howard Bryant, boxing promoter Don King. Over the next few years, the makers uncovered more than 15,000 photos and scraped off images that were not available to the public. A production company that filmed “Thrilla in Manila,” Ali’s third and final match with Joe Frazier in the Philippines, closed before the film was used. His images are buried in the Pennsylvania archives.
“This woman took these boxes out and said, ‘They say ‘Ali’ on them – I don’t know what they are,'” McMahon said. “This is Technicolor, 16 millimeter, shot from the apron [of the ring] – just opens. And you see the fight in ways that have never been seen before.”
Ali’s relationship as a young fighter with Frazier, one of Ali’s fans, is one of the most difficult aspects of the documentary. Ali’s treatment of her before their fight was pretty brutal, using some “racist white people” language to defame Frazier (who never forgave him), as one commentator on the show put it. It’s part of the complex picture of Ali that the show presents: a folk champion who may be insignificant; a devout Muslim who is a serial womanizer; An idealist who angered many with his refusal to live up to public expectations.
ESPN columnist Bryant said he didn’t think “people understand why this story is so heroic, so important, so unique.”
“We think we put every person out there in the same category as Muhammad Ali or Jackie Robinson if they protest something, say something, face some kind of sanction,” he continued. “And that’s ridiculous.”
“Tell me another athlete where the entire burden of the United States government falls on one person. I’m not talking about the NFL saying you can’t play when you’re already a millionaire. Colin Kaepernick obviously sacrificed some things and lost. It’s not the same thing. It’s not even close.”